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How baby Prince George is helping the House of Windsor grow up

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The eyes of the world were on a London hospital when the third-in-line to the throne arrived on July 22. But other royal events this year — some which didn't grab so many headlines — offer just as much insight into the future of an institution that has at times seemed on shaky ground.

"Certainly the monarchy has come a long way in the last 20 years and there's a sense of hope and revitalization from the new generation," says Toronto-based royal historian and blogger Carolyn Harris.

Indeed, one could say that Prince George's much-anticipated birth helped lend a growing sense of stability and maturity to a Royal Family that has often been mired in scandal.

"For decades there was speculation about what the future of the monarchy would be after the Queen's reign," says Harris. "The fact that she has three generations of heirs sends a very clear signal of the monarchy's continuity."

Central to that sense of continuity is George, the third-in-line to the throne and first son of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.

That his arrival is the highlight of the royal year might actually be something of an understatement. The media glare that surrounded him was immense and continues still, even though he's been kept pretty much under wraps except for his christening in October.

Barbara Walters put the youngest royal on her "10 Most Fascinating People of the Year" list, along with the likes of former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, NSA leaker Edward Snowden and the pop queen of twerking, Miley Cyrus.

"I think we've just become fascinated with a whole new emergence of the next royal king," says CBC royal commentator Bonnie Brownlee.

Charles steps up

Brownlee chalks up that interest to a variety of factors, including the attention that had been placed on the changes to the rules of succession, which are designed to ensure that a younger brother could no longer trump an older sister and ascend the throne.

Brownlee also sees social media putting more intense attention on William and Kate and their generation of younger royals, including Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, first cousins to William and the daughters of Prince Andrew.

"We're paying more attention to them, almost more than we are to the Queen and Prince Charles to some extent," says Brownlee.

- Kate Middleton's, Prince Harry's phones hacked, court told 

That said, there was still significant attention focused this year on the Queen, particularly through celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of her coronation.

Her son and heir, Charles, who turned 65, became a pensioner and assumed more duties on behalf of his mother, also appeared to step up.

"He's actually maturing fairly well," says Ninian Mellamphy, professor emeritus at Western University in London, Ont., and a long-time royal watcher.

Mellamphy points in particular to a recent statement Charles made warning that Christianity is beginning "to disappear" in the Middle East.

"I'm sure this is the kind of subject a lot of people don't want to really broach, but he did that and I think he did it very diplomatically and with the kind of public voice that entitled him, I think, to raise that issue," Mellamphy says.

"That was the right kind of context that shows indeed if ever he becomes king he can actually say something that is diplomatically important and I suppose even politically pressing as well."

Health a concern

Mellamphy also noted that Charles's often trouble-prone youngest son, Prince Harry, who recently completed a trek to the South Pole in support of wounded soldiers, was improving his image as well.

"So we have his [father] becoming a respected senior citizen, and [Harry] himself, I think, becoming mature for the first time in his life, because he's normally rather prankish and maybe somewhat idiotic," says Mellamphy.

"And then we have his brother [Prince William] becoming a well-admired father. I think it's been a great year for them."

Harris concurs that has been a "very successful year" for the Royal Family.

But she notes that it follows a number of successful years, particularly 2011, which saw the Royal Wedding of William and Kate, followed by last year's celebrations marking the Queen's Diamond Jubilee of  60 years on the throne.

For all the success 2013 held, however, there were also worries that come with inevitable with the passage of time.

Health is a big issue for both the Queen, who is 87, and her husband Prince Philip, who is 92, notes Brownlee.

The Queen, who continues to do numerous engagements throughout Britain, spent a night in hospital in March, and Philip had abdominal surgery in June, followed by several weeks recovering out of the public eye.

"He had some severe health problems in the summer and disappeared for two or three months, so they have to be very cautious and careful about that. She is pulling back from what they're calling long hauls just because it is simply getting too difficult for an 87-year-old," says Brownlee.

A quiet year ahead?

Unlike the past few years, there are no high-profile events on the royal calendar for 2014.

Tabloid speculation has suggested Prince Harry might make it to the altar with girlfriend Cressida Bonas, but both Brownlee and Harris aren't so sure he will marry in 2014.

"I don't know about a wedding," says Brownlee. "But I think we're definitely going to see movement on his love life. I think an engagement is possible."

Bonas has been invited to the Royal Family's annual Boxing Day celebrations at Sandringham, the first time she's been invited while the Queen is also there.

Harris wouldn't be surprised, however, if it's actually Princess Beatrice, who has a long-term boyfriend, who is the next royal to marry.

Brownlee expects to see the continued presence of William and Kate on the world stage. Late last week, Kensington Palace confirmed they will be going to Australia and New Zealand in April. Prince George is expected to accompany them.

"Part of it is the Queen and Prince Charles know that William and Kate are really helpful to the brand," says Brownlee.

"No one is troubled by it or is jealous about it. They'll take advantage of it and let them keep helping build up popularity while the Queen and Charles go about organizing him as the next sovereign."

Tune in to CBC News Network for Will & Kate Plus George. CBC News Network's Reshmi Nair and CBC News royal commentator Bonnie Brownlee explore the world's fascination with the young Royal Family. The program airs on News Network on Christmas Day at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. On Dec. 28, it will air at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. It will air on CBC Televison on Dec. 29 at 10 p.m. local time, 10:30 p.m. NT.